Social Entrepreneurialism and Church Planting

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It seems like today everyone is an entrepreneur. Many social media profiles flaunt the self-proclaimed title “entrepreneur.” But is it really that easy? I’ve always been partial to staying away from titles and such. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once quipped, “Power is like being a lady ... if you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.” Sometimes I wonder about telling everyone you’re an entrepreneur. If you have to tell people you are, are you really?

In light of the recent craze of many aspiring to be entrepreneurs we need to hit the pause button simply to point out that this trend is nothing new. Yes, the medium has changed and because of social media and technology we’re seeing more and more overnight sensations, millionaires, and insta-celebrities. However, long before we began exchanging currency people we were starting businesses. They may have been exchanging manual labor for boarding or beets and carrots for handiwork, but in many ways entrepreneurialism has been and is a very human trait.

It is into this world that steps a church planter. In many ways, since the beginning of the church in Acts, church planters or missionaries have been the entrepreneurs of the church. Starting churches from scratch in new locations is a very creative and entrepreneurial endeavor. In the same way that business entrepreneurs have changed throughout history because of technological advancements and changes in local and global economies, church planters continue to adapt with the changing times.

Another layer of the conversation we need to address is how pastors, missionaries, or church planters make a living. In recent modern (and Western) history it was understood that the career trajectory of someone in “full-time” ministry was to begin by going to Bible college and/or seminary. Upon graduation they would transition into a full-time ministry position in the church or as a missionary. Many still operate under this framework. However, what many of us observe is (a) this is seemingly becoming less and less the case (b) more often that not this is not the reality for minority churches where bi-vocationalism is an everyday reality, and (c) this is not how the rest of the world operates. Meaning, it would appear that often times to be a pastor means to be bi-vocational.

If that’s the case then what does a church planter, missionary, or pastor do to earn a living? For those who were on the career trajectory of Bible college and seminary it means the training and academic focus has been so ministry-oriented that it’s not always easily translatable into occupations outside of ministry. However, it doesn't have to be either/or. There is a both/and. It is called social entrepreneurialism.

Much has been written about that topic of late from micro-finance to TOM’s Shoes and more. It is certainly wide-ranging and far-reaching. What is social entrepreneurship? In a nutshell it is about pursuing an innovative idea to solve a community problem. It is the combining of business and social justice if you will. It is leveraging your business for the betterment of the community or some specific problem.

While there are a myriad of definitions out there, a quick perusal online reveals a lot of overlap and commonalities. Here are two for discussion sake:

What is a ‘Social Entrepreneur’ A person who pursues an innovative idea with the potential to solve a community problem. These individuals are willing to take on the risk and effort to create positive changes in society through their initiatives.

Social entrepreneurship is the use of the techniques by start up companies and other entrepreneurs to develop, fund and implement solutions to social, cultural, or environmental issues.

Those definitions suffice for the context of this article. Again, we’re talking about launching legitimate businesses that have the dual aim at (a) making money and (b) meeting a need in the community. The important thing to keep in mind is that this straddles the line between both. Making money and meeting community needs are not incompatible. One isn’t more noble while the other is more base. This is where the tension comes in.

There is a convergence and synergy between social entrepreneurialism and church planting. In many ways they go hand-in-hand. They are quite natural, compatible, and not mutually exclusive. While this article simply broaches the topic, we'll continue to explore in successive articles how these two things ... church planting and social entrepreneurialism ... are complimentary.